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TRANSFORMING ASSESSMENT: Gordon Commission Offers Recommendations for Fundamentally Reconceptualizing Purposes of Educational Assessments

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“These developments have heighted awareness among educators and state and federal policymakers of the critical relationships among more rigorous standards, curriculum, instruction, and appropriate assessment, and have created an opportunity to address issues of long standing,” the statement notes.

The Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education (the Gordon Commission) recently issued a public policy statement based on its two-plus years of work designed to “stimulate a productive national conversation about assessment and its relationship to teaching and learning.”

The statement notes that now is a “remarkable opportunity to reconceptualize the purposes of educational assessments” based on several factors, including adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics and English language arts; development of the Next Generation Science Standards, and work focused on developing assessments aligned to the CCSS by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

“These developments have heighted awareness among educators and state and federal policymakers of the critical relationships among more rigorous standards, curriculum, instruction, and appropriate assessment, and have created an opportunity to address issues of long standing,” the statement notes.

Issues raised in the statement include the need for the nation’s leaders to (1) recognize that assessments can serve multiple purposes and (2) invest in the development of new types of assessments to accomplish these different purposes. The statement offers two main purposes of assessment: “assessment of learning,” which measures what students can demonstrate as a result of instruction, and “assessment for learning,” which is designed for adjusting and improving instruction.

Because teachers and students will “take their cues” from high-stake tests and will try to score well on them, it is “critical,” the statement says, that the tests best represent the kind of learning students will need to thrive after high school graduation. Simply changing the nature and quality of tests, however, will not be enough, the statement notes. An equal or greater investment must be made in developing tools that integrate assessment and classroom instruction that reflect what is known about student learning and changes in society, particularly the advent of digital technology.

“The globalization of the economy, advancements in technology, the development of the internet, and the explosion of social media and other communication platforms have changed the nature of what it means to be well-educated and competent in the twenty-first century,” the statement reads. “New assessments—both external and internal to classroom use—must fit squarely into this landscape of the future, both signaling what is important and helping learners know they are making progress toward productive citizenry.”

Digital technologies hold promise for bringing about the changes the Gordon Commission would like to see and can be used to access information, create simulations, and enable collaboration. They can also measure “noncognitive” factors, such as persistence and creativity.
Recognizing the role that policymakers will play in the future of assessment, the public policy statement includes three recommendations directed at policymakers:

  • States should create a council on educational assessments, modeled on the Education Commission of the States, to monitor how well assessments are working and recommend improvements. The council would evaluate the effects of PARCC and SBAC on teaching and learning, conduct research on changes in assessments, and inform states as they make purchasing decisions. The council would also mount a public information campaign to explain the need for better assessment, examine issues of equity, and study policies to ensure the privacy of assessment data.
  • President Obama and the U.S. Congress should encourage states to experiment with different methods of assessment and accountability and use the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to create incentives for new forms of assessment, such as performance tasks.
  • Federal agencies and the philanthropic community should launch a ten-year effort to strengthen the capacity of assessments to measure the full range of competencies students need to develop. Additionally, the government and private funders should expand the number of scholars dedicated to developing expertise in assessment.

Created by the Educational Testing Service in January 2011, the Gordon Commission—chaired by Edmund W. Gordon, professor emeritus at Yale and Columbia Universities—is charged with considering the nature and content of American education during the twenty-first century and how assessment can be used to advance that vision. It consists of thirty members, including Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise. More information on the Gordon Commission and its work is available at http://www.gordoncommission.org/.

The complete public policy statement is available at http://www.gordoncommission.org/rsc/pdfs/gordon_commission_public_policy_report.pdf.

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